1. Decide who’s in charge. Me, you, all of us by committee decision? It doesn’t really matter so long as everyone knows who’s calling the shots.

2. WRITE THE SONGS. Unless you’re a jam band and songs are not really the point, write—and finish—the songs before you start recording them. Just because technology lets you write on the fly doesn’t necessarily make this the best way to go.

3. Beg, borrow (maybe not steal) as much gear as you can. You can never have too many mics, amps, pedals, so call around to friends in the neighborhood and see if you can snag some loaners for a few days. Look after the gear you borrow.

4. Consider soundproofing and room acoustics. If you’re recording in your bedroom or garage you’re realistically not going to be able to get the place soundproofed. But you can block up holes (think of soundproofing like waterproofing. If there’s a hole, sound [or water!] can and will leak in and out). If you’re recording in a symmetrical room sound waves are going to bounce around and give you a false picture of what your recording sounds like. Read up on this a bit and maybe pick up or construct some bass traps. In this instance, a little knowledge is not dangerous at all. A little goes a long way.

5. Think about how you’re going to record vocals. Vocals are the song’s shop window. It’s the first thing people latch onto. First, make sure if it’s a ‘singer’ that they can sing well in the key you’re playing at. Don’t just rely on Auto-Tune! Also make sure the singer is rested and does not eats gobs of dairy the day before or of the recording. Finally, figure out where you’re going to recording him/her. Closets can make great vocal booths. Seriously.

6. Decide exactly how you want to record. Everyone in the room at the same time or part-by-part? If you’re recording ‘together’ you then have the choice of ‘just using a couple of room mics.’ Maybe you want everyone miced separately? If you want separate mics and you’re using a DAW you’ll need an interface that can handle as many inputs as you have. And if you want to be able to monitor everything separately, you’ll need to think about the number of A-D and/or D-A converters. With all this to think about you might want to go back to tape! It’s not a bad idea, either. All things to consider…

7. Check your equipment is in good working order. Fix crackly pots and channel faders (use an air duster, then a lubricant). Update your computer and recording software (but not 5 minutes before you start as updates can also cause at least temporary problems too). Make sure you have spare guitar / bass strings. Ideally, put on a new set of strings on any stringed instrument you plan on using.

8. Download everything you think you might need. Loops, instrument and effects plug-ins, patches, the new version of Melodyne you’re been promising yourself… Don’t spend precious recording time downloading stuff.

9. Look out all your widgets, gadgets, doodads and adaptors: Mic clips, a mic stand, a music stand, a string winder, your wallwarts, footpedals, cables… It’s The Law that the one cable you need—that stereo eighth inch mini jack to dual RCAs or whatever—will not be where you thought you last saw it when you need it in the heat of battle. Locate all of this stuff.

10. Print out the words/lyrics. 1. It’ll force you into completing them. 2. It makes it so much easier to identify sections you need to repeat, or makes changes to etc. 3. It’ll help everyone ‘keep in touch’ with the meaning or purpose of the track.

Bonus Track…

11. Decide on the credits. Music history is littered with musicians who felt they wrote or contributed to songs they ultimately were not credited for (Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman claims he wrote the guitar riff on Jumpin’ Jack Flash and was not credited for it, etc.) and basically once you leave the recording session ‘un-credited’ that’s how it’s going to remain. Have that conversation now or, as many sensible bands do, simply pre-agree that if you were in the room/band when a song was being written, you are a co-writer. Either strategy can save a lifetime of heartache or litany of legal fees afterwards.

MCTS Mexico City

Date: April 24-25, 2015
Country: México
Venue: Estudio Piayet, Tec de Monterrey, Mexico City
Event: MCTS Level 3
Artist: Tren A Marte
Musicians: Alan García (Vocals), Edgar García (Vocals), Cristian Carrillo (Drums), Adrian Adame (Guitar), Allan Fuentes (Bass), Luigi (Keyboards) Cardoso (Violin and Cello)
Producer: Alan Parsons
Event Management: Charlie Steves
Engineer: Nicolás Mariñelarena
Video: Cameron Colbeck
Event Producers: Alejandro Ramos Amezquita, director at Tec de Monterrey, Julian Colbeck for KEYFAX NewMedia Inc.

For two whole days 10 AM to 7PM more than 400 students on Tec de Monterrey’s Music Production course got to participate in the making of a new record produced by Alan Parsons.

Held at Estudio Piajet on the walled and heavily fortified Mexico City campus, shifts of 30 students at a time piled into the control room for a morning or afternoon session with Alan and Latin GRAMMY-nominated Tren A Marte for the recording of a new track Yo Queria.

With double lead vocalists, brothers Alan and Edgar Garcia, supported by a line up of drums, bass, guitar, keys, violin and cello, the day began with a playback of the demo followed by a discussion between Alan, band, and the 30+ other producers in the room as to how best to arrange the song. Should the drums come in quite so late? Did that power chord guitar part really work? Could the keyboard part be simplified?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that recording a song in Spanish with a 7-piece band in front of a live and impressively opinionated audience would phase even the most seasoned producer. But Alan takes all such and more - a 2-day deadline to record and mix, a live webcast broadcasting the activities to two other TEC campuses in the city - in his not inconsiderable stride.

Every decision, from routining to mic choices and placements, to performance and production judgements, was taken with calmness and clarity—a lesson in itself for the students.

Within the session students got to observe the recording a basic tracking session—including a short-course in isolation with drums and acoustic grand piano recorded in the same room without gobos—copious instrument overdubs including violin and cello, two lead vocal recordings, backing vocal recording (including participation by Alan himself), a couple of mic shoot-outs featuring two mics Alan had brought along himself (the new Rode ribbon, and a Miktek CV5), and a full—though necessarily speedy—mix with processing and stereo considerations addressed.

The final mix of Tren A Marte’s Yo Querio is probably not the final final mix but it was nonetheless greeted with tumultuous applause when played back for the public the following day at the SoundCheck Expo at Mexico City’s World Trade Center.

MCTS Nashville News Story

Entitled “The Art Of The Song”, the Nashville MCTS saw Alan return to Nashville–site of the first filming sessions for the Art & Science of Sound Recording video series.

Songwriting was the focus of this two-day Level 3 workshop looking at issues ranging from composition to arrangement and performance as well as recording techniques. Famed Nashville listening room The Bluebird Café (featured in the hit TV series Nashville) conducted a month-long song search to find a new, appropriate homegrown song for the event. Alan Parsons himself selected the lucky winner at a special audition just the day before the recording.

Only it didn’t quite work out like that.

Confronted by three very individual performers on stage: Paul Sikes, a young male country-pop singer and guitarist, the brooding JP Williams, blessed with a voice as true as his true-blue country roots and who happens to be blind, and the wonderfully quirky Annie Mosher who’s intensely personal style straddles country music and modern folk.

Alan would clearly not make the best American Idol judge as he simply could not find a winner amongst these three performers, announcing to universal delight that all three would be recorded over the next two days.

This last-minute change of plans was only even theoretically feasible thanks to the quartet of seasoned Nashville session players headed up by guitarist Troy Lancaster. On drums was Nashville uber session player Shannon Forrest playing his beautiful Australian Brady kit (with - if we heard correctly - a eucalyptus finish). Artist in his own right Doug Kahan was on bass and soundmeister Charlie Judge handled keys with a Yamaha Motif flanked by a pair of trusty Roland JP808 modules plus a full compliment of soft synths lodged in his personal ProTools rig.

The first track, written and performed by Paul Sikes, had originally been an upbeat country rocker on Paul’s demo. Alan and Paul decided to give it more of an edgier / U2 feel with lots of sparse and punctuating guitar and a bubbling, arpeggiated synth motif that was SMPTE-d to the main ProTools rig in the control room.

It was fascinating for the mainly non-Nashville Attendees to see the ‘Nashville’ ‘number’ system of charting chords in action–especially in view of this guitar based track being written in Eb.

Once the main tracks were in the bag there was time for one or two key instrumental overdubs before it was straight onto song #2, JP’s beautifully observed country ballad The Dollar, recounting the influence of money for good or bad (“I take all the credit, all the blame…”), as a single greenback floats from bar to homeless person’s coffee can along the highways and back alleys of life.

Time was getting extremely tight as Annie Mosher stepped into the limelight to record her personal and precious take on society’s value of human life through the eyes of her four year old son’s reaction to the death of his goldfish. Talk about the power to move; after the first run-through never mind ‘scarcely’ a dry eye in the house…

The recording of Annie’s song demonstrated Alan’s deft touch when it comes to recording ‘just the right number’ of parts on top of a delicate and highly emotional song such as this. Too much and becomes too produced and slick; too little and why bother, just leave it as an acoustic guitar track.

The Nashville MCTS stood out as the first of these events where women attended at both Platinum and Gold levels and Annie and Alan took full advantage of this with a girls chorus culled from the ranks of the Attendees and Production Manager Abi Mae.

Attendee Gina Towell also sung harmonies on Paul Sikes’ song; her voice matching almost eerily with Paul’s. Interestingly, for Paul’s own vocal Alan put up a U47 and a Miktek C7 and actually chose the Miktek for the final mix, feeling it suited this particular vocal better.

Recording and mixing three songs in two days–never mind to an audience eager to ask questions—is a tall order but once that was accomplished to universal approval from three delighted performers, studio staff, Team ASSR, and twenty-four Attendees.

MCTS Las Vegas Report

Everything that happens in Vegas does NOT have to stay there and the memory of ASSR’s first master class of 2013 will surely linger with the many Platinum and Gold Attendees, some of whom had traveled to sin city from as far a-field as Montana and South Carolina.

Venue for the event was Studio At The Palms, an oasis of civilization in amongst a sea of Vegas kitsch, bling and ker-ching; implausibly, for a multi-million dollar recording studio, probably the most normal looking space in a couple of square miles.

“Iconic Instrumentals” looked at instrumentals for which Alan is rightly renown, with the recording of a new Alan Parsons theme. Sportingly, Alan admitted to the assembled cast first thing on Day 1 that he had suffered writer’s block and that the composition was still fairly embryonic. Silver lining was that Alan had not one but two themes on the boil, both of which ended up being recorded and mixed during the event.

Alan was flanked by a top-notch list of Vegas musicians including Pat Caddick, Jimmy Crespo, Craig Martini, Eddie Rich, and Adam Shendal (replacing Aynsley Dunbar who'd originally been slated for the session). Alan ran down the first tune–a lively, blues-infused rocker, subsequently entitled 702 Rock (the Area Code for Las Vegas)–in the studio for a live tracking session comprising bass, drums, keys (organ), and sax. Even though the sax would later be replaced, spill was a remarkably minor problem due to Alan’s positioning of the players and his mic selection–the first of many ‘wow’ moments for Attendees.

The second track–originally just entitled “Slushy” by Alan, but now the bearer of a new name, Lisa’s Theme, initially featured acoustic piano, bass, drums, and guitar before going on to be fully orchestrated with (real) flute and alto sax, acoustic guitar and a plethora of strings and additional wind instruments courtesy of keyboardist Pat Caddick’s well-endowed VST collection within his MUSE Receptor unit.

Day 2 opened with a breakout session from Dave Polich, who is currently David Foster’s sound designer/programmer and who is widely acknowledged as the guru of the Yamaha Motif platform. Dave also wowed Attendees with a forthcoming sound effects library that contains a staggering recreation (not a sample) of both the clocks and ‘Money’ loop from Dark Side Of The Moon, a recording originally engineered of course by You Know Who.

After more than 50 tracks of recording across two new compositions, Day 2 concluded with a 5.1 Surround mix of Lisa’s Theme in Studio At The Palms’ Studio Y room followed by a guided playback of some landmark ‘surround’ mixes Alan has worked on including tracks by Pink Floyd and Al Stewart.

Master Class Training Sessions are unique training / learning events. Attendees are not simply observing a recording session or listening to a lecture on recording, they are participants. Platinum Attendees actually get to work with Alan on concepts, decisions, choices, takes; fully participating in the cut and thrust, ups and downs, as well as moments of hilarity that happen during a professional recording session. Here in Las Vegas, Gold level Attendees in the ‘Video Village’ also had a remarkable birds-eye view (in Studio Y) where they were not only able to see everything that went on but hear everything on studio monitors.

The icing on these tasty cakes are the breaks and end-of-session Reception where there’s the opportunity to share a drink with Alan Parsons, ask questions and hang with a like-minded engineers, producers, musicians, educators or just plain music enthusiasts.

Actually, only Studio At The Palms gets to stay in Vegas. The message, memories and music created during this inspirational 2-day event was for all who were present to take home and keep forever.

Sylvia Massy started to weave her magic right after Alan Parsons’ 10 A.M. good luck Skype greeting finally pixilated into the ether in front of Attendees, crew and more band members than a chamber orchestra assembled for a day of intensive recording in San Francisco’s swanky Studio Trilogy.

The Control Room

Cognizant of the challenge of recording and mixing Liam McCormick and his cast-of-thousands The Family Crest collective in a single day, Massy lost no time in turfing anyone suspected of being a band member out of the control room so she could lay out her plan of attack.

Massy is the queen of conspiratorial production techniques (three years working as Prince’s engineer might have something to do with that) and it instantly creates a vibe, is enormous fun, and more importantly gets results.

Liam McCormick wrote this ‘Christmas Single’ two days prior to the session. Far from being rough and ready, the track was completely arranged and tightly rehearsed. And that’s arranged as in charts for violin, viola, cello, two trombones, choir…not just ‘we’re going to go bananas at the end of the last chorus.’

The initial tracking session featured McCormick playing a wrist-wrecking piano part, bass, and drums, drummer Charlie Giesige favoring a vintage marching drum that must have been sixteen inches deep as his ‘snare.’

Violin, viola and cello were recorded as a section, Sylvia demonstrating the power and beauty of the MS technique to create a stunning stereo spread. In addition to the MS configuration Sylvia also responded to a suggestion from one of the Attendees to try pair of Royer ribbon mikes in straight stereo.

Trombones and flute followed in rapid succession in order to have more time to spend on the lead vocal. In addition to her own Universal Audio vocal chain, Sylvia set up a U47 and, initially, the SSL’s own mic pres. AB-ing against other mic pres was interesting but the SSLs actually won out at the end of the day.

Army Man

Sylvia Massy is known for some unique studio tools and tricks, one such being ‘Army Man’ a battle-scarred compressor from who knows where or when that Massy often uses to add crunch and grit. Giesige’s snare-less snare needed some enhancement and in addition to some cunning re-amping involving micing up a gated snare track being fed into a cube speaker placed directly on top of a ‘real’ snare drum, Army Guy was also marched into the picture.

After a ‘cheat’ EQ across the master bus to create something approaching a mastered version of the mix, the session concluded with a playback in the packed control room to universal amazement that so much could have been recorded so quickly and sound so good.